Performance in Three Dimensions

In order to create an environment in which the challenge exceeds skill, you can use anchor and investigative phenomena to encourage performance in three dimensions (science and engineering practice skills, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts).

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Creating students that can perform in three dimensions requires a carefully constructed sequence of events. We begin the sequence with nonfiction reading. This gives everybody a common background, and building on that, you can then launch into a Socratic dialogue, which uses higher order questions to help students develop the three types of connection referenced in the previous paragraph. This is key, because it is where you bring in that why, what and how – the meaning and purpose. After that, you settle on a problem or question that directs students as they break into small groups or teams for student learning.

Our recommendation is to usually create teams of two, so that as a teacher you can drill down deeply into what each child knows as they're coming to checkpoints. That way, students who aren’t contributing can’t hide behind those who are. There’s plenty for each student in the team of two to accomplish as they’re planning their investigations in an attempt to answer the question or problem posed. Once they have a plan, they execute it with their partner. The resulting experiment yields data that they use to form evidence-based conclusions as a team, then bring these conclusions back to the class as a whole to debrief. Again, students are checking in with the teacher at every point along the way, so you are always monitoring and, where necessary, redirecting.

Taken together, these steps form a lesson. This can take place over a week or two, and doesn’t need to be done in the single 40-minute chunk we referenced above. It all depends on the lesson, the grade level you’re at and the skill level of students. However, even at the youngest grade levels, students can handle this basic process and perform in all three dimensions. It’s just much more basic, with a far lower degree of nuance and sophistication.

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The scope and sequence of lessons and units progresses through the grades in an intentionally scaffolded way, each unit and lesson building upon previous ones and setting students up for later ones. No lesson, however, exists in a vacuum, each of them related to others through the crosscutting concepts.

Both will, of course, increase as you climb to 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade and so on. The level of complexity increasing is necessary to creating that gap between current skill and the skills they need to accomplish new goals. That's why highly effective classrooms have grade-specific scope and sequence, unit orders, vocabulary and lesson plans. Grade level matters.

What you can do with that unit scope and sequence is paint a big picture of what science and engineering are. Essentially you do this through engineered connections. If you look at the image above, you can see in the 2nd grade column the connections between Earth's Surface and Living Earth is that the earth’s surface provides for life in various ways. The units actually define the different kinds of life that exist. These are dependent on water, land forms and so on, which dictate how plants are structured, the predator and prey relationship, and the life cycles of animals like butterflies and moths. These ideas are connected actions and reactions in physics, for example, tying each unit and concept to the next.

That might be objects hitting one another as they roll down hills or ramps, circuits that conduct electricity and make modern life possible, engineering boats and the different challenges that must be overcome there, and more. It might even relate to the different kinds of home construction and insulation options people have, which vary depending on the environment. The point is that only be creating a scope and sequence that is intentional and where everything has its place can you ensure you’re creating a setting in which challenge exceeds skill. If you do so, you’re creating a space where rigor rules and students are constantly urged to develop new skills and reach new goals.

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